Absence makes the heart grow weirder. Or, certainly, more distinctive. Already stylistic standouts within the British rock scene, Wild Beasts’ necessary break for r’n’r of a more relaxing kind after the release of 2011’s acclaimed, top-20-charting ‘Smother’ (review) saw them ultimately reconvene with ideas bolder than ever. What would become the band’s fourth studio set was unlikely to follow exactly in the compositional footprints of its predecessors. It was time to mark a new beginning.
“We’d not been in the studio, in that sort of creative environment, for nigh on two years,” recalls the Kendal-formed quartet’s drummer, Chris Talbot. “That’s a hell of a long time. You don’t know what’s going to come out of it.”
What has emerged is an album touching on more electronic sounds than any prior Wild Beasts release. ‘Present Tense’ (review), despite its title, isn’t concerned with the EDM clatter that comprises so much mainstream dance music. Rather, its textured synthetics recall 1980s bands like Depeche Mode and The Blue Nile. Nothing feels forced into place – this is very much the sound of a band resetting itself and building from the ground upwards, albeit without abandoning the qualities fuelling previous forward momentum.
“We wanted to do something different, certainly,” says bassist and co-vocalist Tom Fleming, he of the deeper tones when contrasted with the higher register of ostensible frontman Hayden Thorpe. “We wanted to do something more brash than ‘Smother’, not something necessarily aggressive, but something that brought the swagger back in. We wanted to kick against what we’d done before.”
Lead single ‘Wanderlust’ – also its parent LP’s first track – definitely rolls with a flourish, but it’s key that one doesn’t mistake this confidence for arrogance. “Some of the major production breakthroughs on this album were complete accidents,” says Thorpe. “And these are the songs, like ‘Wanderlust’ and ‘A Dog’s Life’, that go some way to defining the album’s aesthetic signposts. These songs were put together without any other thought than: ‘Let’s do it.’ We were working in the dark with a lot of this, deliberately. We didn’t want to get so involved that we disappeared up our own arses.”
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Wild Beasts, 'Wanderlust'
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Retreating within one’s own rectum mightn’t seem a likely happening for a band as productive as Wild Beasts, now on their fourth album release in less than six years. But the gestation period of ‘Present Tense’ represents the longest the foursome has ever spent on a record’s creation.
“Because we were taking longer,” says Thorpe, “we had to confront the essentials of what we do. We had to determine which pieces we brought with us, and what clothes didn’t fit us anymore. There was some pretty brutal decision making – we wanted to be as direct, but as elegant, as possible. I hope that this album does capture what is essential about us. My own favourite artists have always managed to somehow maintain a singularity, whatever the form that they take.”
Crafting ‘Present Tense’ with digital dimensions naturally led to a situation where it wasn’t always clear where a song’s structure would end. “We actually threw away more stuff than what’s made the record,” says Fleming. Yet there are elements of the album that come from far rawer roots than its sheen might initially imply.
“There are a lot of first takes on the album,” says Thorpe. “There’s something appealing about their fluidity, their fearlessness. When you spend such a long time on a record, you can become incredibly self-aware, and fold in on yourself. But as we took longer, we stripped more away, instead of over decorating it. An important part of the process was when we realised that ‘A Simple Beautiful Truth’ sounded like the work of the same band that made (debut single) ‘Brave, Bulging, Buoyant Clairvoyants’. There was a circularity to it that felt authentic to us. And you’re often striving for authenticity, within yourself.
“You go into a new album thinking that you’ll become something ‘other’ – but then comes the realisation that wherever you go and whatever you do, you take yourself with you. With this album, we’re still there, but the landscape has changed.”
“I think we still make honest music, music that is true to us,” says guitarist Ben Little. “When we started, all we wanted to do was make music that we loved doing. And I think we’ve still got that. We’re really honest with ourselves, and we want to do this together.”
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Wild Beasts, 'Sweet Spot'
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Words: Mike Diver
Photos: Klaus Thymann
This is an excerpt from Clash's full feature on Wild Beasts, featuring our own original photography, published in issue 93 of Clash magazine (April 2014, on sale in March). Keep an eye on our magazine pages, as when it's out, that's where full details will be.
Find Wild Beasts online here. 'Present Tense' is released via Domino on February 24th.